Come the end of this year’s Six Nations competition, Gregor Townsend will mark four years in charge of Scotland rugby. With ups and downs over the years, fans are split on whether or not he is still the right man for the job.
While many feel he has truly benefitted Scottish rugby since joining the coaching staff in 2017, others believe a fresh face is what is needed to really push on to the next level.
Ross Sanderson takes a look at his four years with Scotland and offers his opinion on whether Gregor Townsend should stay, or go.
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Townsend is building a squad
The one thing, and debatably most important thing, that Gregor Townsend can not be faulted for is his development of young players. Throughout the years and Six Nations tournaments, Townsend has regularly brought young, promising players into the Scotland squads.
This is to grow and gain valuable experience even if they miss out on getting any game time, the most recent of which being the likes of Jamie Dobie, Rufus McLean and Ally Miller. Even more experienced players like Ali Price have benefited from the chances afforded to him by Townsend
Alongside them, Townsend has been inviting potential future first-team players such as Matt Currie, Alex Samuel and Rory Darge to train with the team, which helps to boost their confidence and motivates them to push for a place in later squads.
The belief that Townsend has for the young players in Scotland shows that he has a plan for the future and hopes to build squads that look further ahead than just the next few games. Townsend’s choice to regularly rotate the squad allows for more players to bond with their teammates and coaches and ultimately, creates a bigger, stronger pool of Scottish talent to pick from.
🗣️ “I missed the call from Gregor on the Saturday…I thought it was an invite to train but I’d been promoted to the full squad.”
Hear from Jamie Dobie on his journey to the Scotland squad.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) March 16, 2021
Onfield performance somewhat commendable
On the pitch, Scotland has also been performing well in comparison to past seasons. Townsend boasts an impressive win ratio of 52%. This is joint highest with Vern Cotter out of the last seven head coaches, going as far back as Ian McGeechan in 2003.
The boys in blue have also shown to be a formidable side against some of the world’s best under Townsend.
For the record: Scotland has played Australia twice during his time at Murrayfield and, has won both. They also have a 100% record against Argentina, winning twice in 2018; 44-15 and 14-9.
Scotland also faced New Zealand in 2017 for the first time in three years. At that time, the majority of Scottish fans know they were unlucky to come away with a 22-17 narrow loss, in a tightly contested match. A good record and without the Coronavirus, Scotland would have toured New Zealand in the June window last year.
Moreover, Scotland has the upper hand over old rivals England. While Townsend has been involved, his group are responsible for winning the Calcutta Cup three out of four times since 2017, including the stunning victory in Twickenham to open the 2021 Six Nations campaign.
The Scotland legend has coached his home country very well this year, even without getting the right results. They currently sit fifth in the Six Nations table but, have been unlucky with some of their games; losing by just three points Ireland and by just one to Wales. Let alone, the match vs France which is in ‘limbo’ until a rescheduled game is confirmed. A result in any rescheduled match would go a long way to improving their placing yet few would bet on Scotland to defeat Les Bleus in Paris.
A somewhat commendable performance over a long period of time. With all that said, however, the most important thing to do for an international rugby side is to win.
The Last Word – Right time to Go
Player development and team structure often fall into place when you have a team that ‘knows how to grind out results and win their games’. Scotland currently sits ninth in the Rugby World Rankings, which is a considerable step backward from fifth in 2018. Under Townsend, Scotland has dropped four places and sits just one point above Japan in tenth, and just four points from Fiji dropping out of the Top Ten.
One of the big factors that play into their poor ranking position is the disappointing World Cup in Tokyo 2019. Scotland failed to progress out of the group stages and finished third behind Japan and Ireland in Pool A.
Scoring just three points against Ireland in a World Cup match, eventually losing 27-3, was enough for some fans to be calling for Townsend’s head. (Townsend is contracted with Scotland until the end of 2023) meaning if he keeps the job until then he will be in charge for the next World Cup in France.
Another weak link in Townsend’s setup is his choice of squads.
While he has done well to develop and nurture young players, he often leaves out players that deserve a call-up more than anyone. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne for example, a European Cup and Premiership double winner, has been exceptional for the Exeter Chiefs since joining last year but has only made 12 appearances for his country since first being selected in 2015.
It can be argued that Townsend’s man-management over the years has been poor and has led to disappointing results on the pitch. Last year, Townsend fell out with Finn Russell, debatably one of the best players in the world – let alone in Scotland. He essentially ‘banned him from camp’.
This odd decision resulted in friction within the team, and a step backward in terms of positive progress. Although many positives have come for Scotland since Townsend took the lead role, there have also been numerous mistakes made along the way.
One direction to move in is to celebrate what Townsend has achieved but, let him go before things get worse and he ends up having to just last in an uncomfortable manner. An uncomfortable end you might say.
In the opinion of many Scotland fans though, the team needs a new face as head coach and would benefit from bringing that person in sooner rather than later, in order to build towards the next Scotland Rugby World Cup campaign.
The above article is the opinion of Ross Sanderson. Do you agree or disagree? Write in the comments below or, join the conversation with the LWOS Boards.
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